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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 51 min 58 sec ago

Next Windows 10 version will let you search without Cortana’s involvement

1 hour 8 min ago

Enlarge / The Cortana button is now no longer part of the search box. (credit: Microsoft)

Today's Insider build of Windows 10, number 18317, changes how search and Cortana are used, as Microsoft is working to reposition Cortana as a productivity-focused digital assistant and integrate search with Office 365.

Currently, Windows 10 has a single text box on the taskbar that's used for searches and Cortana commands. Type a word or two and it'll search the Start menu, settings, and documents. But type a command ("tell me a joke," say) and no search is performed; instead, the command is delivered to Cortana, and she duly responds. In the new build, the text box is used solely for searching. To give Cortana a command, you'll have to speak to her or click a separate Cortana button on the taskbar.

The combination of the two features was an oft-criticized part of the Windows 10 interface, as there's no particular reason to bundle them together. Both can respond to typed commands, so using the text box for two different things saved some space. Because searches are popular, it's likely that some people were introduced to Cortana as a result of a search. Separating the two things should make the Windows interface a little more logical. The settings pages have also been disentangled.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla sells a new wall charger, Maryland backs away from big EV charging program

1 hour 28 min ago

Enlarge / New Tesla wall charger. (credit: Tesla)

This week, Tesla introduced a new wall charger that can plug directly into a NEMA 14-50 standard American wall outlet. The new wall charger is similar to the company's second-generation mobile wall connector but with the ability to provide 40 amps (9.6kW) to long-range Model S, X, and 3 vehicles. Mid- and standard-range vehicles still charge at 36 amps, much like the mobile wall connector.

The new wall charger can be used wherever an applicable wall charger exists, without the need for an electrician to come out an install the charger. Both the new wall charger and the electrician-installed wall connector cost $500, but the new charger that is NEMA 14-50-compatible obviously won't require electrician's fees if you have an accessible outlet. Still, Tesla recommends its electrician-installed wall connector "for new installations."

The Tesla Wall Connecter offers the fastest charging speeds, but according to Tesla, this new wall charger is 25 percent faster at charging than the Gen 2 mobile wall connector. As far as charging speed, it seems to sit somewhere between the high-end hardwired charger and the mobile charging kit.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: DOJ pursuing criminal charges against Huawei for theft of tech

January 16, 2019 - 11:55pm

Enlarge / A Seattle jury found Huawei liable in a civil lawsuit brought by T-Mobile for theft of robotic tech. Now the DOJ is ready to file criminal charges. (credit: Getty Images)

In the wake of a civil lawsuit by T-Mobile and other telecommunications companies against the Chinese networking and telecommunications company Huawei, the US Department of Justice is reportedly conducting a criminal investigation of the company. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the DOJ is close to filing an indictment against Huawei for theft of trade secrets, including the technology used in a robot developed by T-Mobile to test smartphones.

The report comes a week after an employee of Huawei was arrested in Poland on espionage charges. And Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada in December based on US charges that she was responsible for violations of US sanctions against Iran. In November, the US government began ratcheting up pressure on allies to ban Huawei network hardware from their telecommunications systems over espionage concerns.

Huawei has long been suspected of benefitting from Chinese economic espionage and the forced transfer of technologies from foreign companies doing business in China. Over a decade ago, Cisco sued Huawei for stealing routing-software source code and incorporating it into Huawei network products. In 2012, Huawei executives claimed the infringing code had come from a third party and was freely available on the Internet, a claim Cisco executive vice president Mark Chandler vigorously denied.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple loses patent case appeal, owes VirnetX $440M in FaceTime dispute

January 16, 2019 - 11:43pm

Group Facetime for up to 32 simultaneous participants, coming to iOS 12.1. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

A federal appeals court has upheld a landmark patent judgment brought by VirnetX against Apple, affirming a $440 million judgment in a years-long patent dispute.

On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied Apple's efforts to overturn a 2016 verdict that imposed $302 million in damages. That figure has since risen to encompass enhanced damages, interest, and more. Many would dub the Nevada-based VirnetX a "patent troll," as it has no meaningful source of income outside of patent litigation.

Previously, a jury found that Apple's VPN on Demand and FaceTime features infringed VirnetX patents. But the Patent Trial and Appeal Board has already invalidated VirnetX's patents, which VirnetX is appealing.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Unity clarifies ToS changes, welcomes back “unsupported” SpatialOS

January 16, 2019 - 10:39pm

Enlarge

Days after a nasty public split with cloud gaming developer Improbable, Unity has reinstated the company's license and updated its own terms of service to offer what it is calling a "commitment to being an open platform."

"When you make a game with Unity, you own the content and you should have the right to put it wherever you want," Unity wrote in a blog post explaining the move. "Our TOS didn’t reflect this principle—something that is not in line with who we are."

The new terms of service allow Unity developers to integrate any third-party service into their projects, no questions asked. As a caveat, though, Unity will now distinguish between "supported" third-party services—those Unity ensures will "always [run] well on the latest version of our software"—and "unsupported" third-party services, which developers use at their own risk.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Netflix reveals Space Force comedy series before Trump gets real thing approved

January 16, 2019 - 10:20pm

Netflix took the wraps off its latest comedy series on Wednesday, and while that may sound humdrum for a company with roughly 7,000 series in the works, this one has set its sights on something huge: the outer reaches of space. Er, sorry, we misread that. The Space Force.

Indeed, before President Trump's proposal for a sixth military branch can become an official item in the United States' 2020 budget, Netflix has jumped on the idea of making a show about this branch's day-to-day ops—and it has three major vets of TV's The Office on board, including Steve Carell as both a co-creator and a star.

The resulting TV series, currently named Space Force, was unveiled in the form of a teaser trailer on Wednesday morning. This mostly text trailer, set to Strauss' "Zarathustra," brings viewers up to speed about how the branch began life in a June 2018 speech. "The goal of the new branch is 'to defend satellites from attack' and 'perform other space-related tasks'... or something," it reads. "This is the story of the men and women who have to figure it out."

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Stop and Shop grocery chain to begin offering “store on wheels” service

January 16, 2019 - 10:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Stop and Shop)

Stop and Shop, a major grocery chain in the Northeast, will begin offering a driverless grocery service in the Boston area, the company announced Wednesday.

Stop and Shop isn't the first store to make an announcement like this—Kroger and Walmart are both working on driverless grocery services of their own. But those are delivery services. The Stop and Shop service, by contrast, puts an entire miniature grocery store on wheels. It's a partnership with Robomart, a startup we first covered last June.

Conventional delivery startups like Nuro and Udelv envision a future where the customer chooses a few items of produce and those specific items are sent out in a driverless vehicle. Robomart's plan, on the other hand, is to send the entire produce aisle to the customer's driveway. Once it arrives, the customer gets to inspect the merchandise and choose which items to buy. Robomart says it will use a mix of cameras and RFID tags to determine which products a customer took and automatically charge for them.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla accuses engineer of plotting secret project, she denies it and sues

January 16, 2019 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Tesla's Fremont factory in July 2018. (credit: Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

An ex-Tesla engineer has sued her former employer, accusing the company of defamation.

The lawsuit (and pages of exhibits) were filed Wednesday by Cristina Balan in federal court in Seattle. Balan says she was forced out of Tesla in 2014 and has been tangling with the company for years, both in arbitration and in the press.

According to Balan’s lawsuit, the alleged defamatory statements include that she spent company money without approval, booked an unapproved trip to New York, produced a secret project for windshields for her own benefit, and conducted illegal audio recordings of coworkers.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

We’ll send postcards—pinball museums, CERN, and more favorite Ars trips of all time

January 16, 2019 - 9:50pm

By default, life at Ars involves a lot of day-to-day work from a home office. But putting together two-decades-and-counting of high-quality journalism has opened opportunities over the years that may not have existed in 1999. Looking back through the archives recently in light of our 20th anniversary, we couldn't help but notice all the unbelievable places we've been and seen previously. Maybe things started with looking at Mac OS X DP2 from the confines of the Siracusa house, but work here has pretty quickly evolved to require occasional dinosaur riding and NASA booties wearing, too.

Ars Technica's 20th Anniversary

View more stories Ars will never say no to an on-the-nose museum exhibit (thank you again, Smithsonian's Art of the Video Game), but some of our most memorable tours have leveraged journalism privilege into some amazing behind-the-scenes experiences to share with readers. We've seen particle accelerators across continents and followed the forum's lead into hallowed ground like Mission Control (editor's note: we really need to do the same with the National Air Force Museum, too). Our former Navy man got to visit his old ship and see the quarters on a newly restored WWII PT-boat. Ars has seen old space and new space up close, and we even spent quality time with George, the early supercomputer.

Luckily, the future looks like it will have more of the same—if recent trips to the set of The Orville or to the Boring Company's LA tunnel are any indication, at least. We'll try to be better about postcards (and certainly remain open to invitations), but for now it's time to reminiscence and look back at snapshots from some of Ars' greatest trips.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Google Play starts manually whitelisting SMS and phone apps

January 16, 2019 - 8:55pm

Enlarge

Google is implementing major new Play Store rules for how Android's "SMS" and "Call Log" permissions are used. New Play Store rules will only allow certain types of apps to request phone call logs and SMS permissions, and any apps that don't fit into Google's predetermined use cases will be removed from the Play Store. The policy was first announced in October, and the policy kicks in and the ban hammer starts falling on non-compliant apps this week.

In that October blog post, Google laid out its vision for SMS and phone permissions for Google Play apps, saying, "Only an app that has been selected as a user's default app for making calls or text messages will be able to access call logs and SMS, respectively." That statement also comes with a host of exceptions, some of which were added after communicating with members of the developer community, but the end result is still that SMS and phone permissions will be heavily policed on the Play Store.

Google says the decision to police these permissions was made to protect user privacy. SMS and phone permissions can give an app access to a user's contacts and everyone they've ever called, in addition to allowing the app to contact premium phone numbers that can charge money directly to the user's cellular bill. Despite the power of these permissions, a surprising number of apps ask for SMS or phone access because they have other, more benign use cases. So to clean up the Play Store, Google's current plan seems to be to (1) build more limited, replacement APIs for these benign use cases that don't offer access to so much user data and (2) kick everyone off the Play Store who is still using the wide-ranging SMS and phone permissions for these more limited use cases.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC asks court for delay in case that could restore net neutrality rules

January 16, 2019 - 8:29pm

Enlarge / The Federal Communications Commission seal hangs inside a meeting room at the headquarters ahead of an open commission meeting in Washington, DC, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday asked judges to delay oral arguments in a court case that could restore Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Oral arguments are scheduled for February 1 at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will rule on a challenge to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of net neutrality rules. The court confirmed this week on its website that its schedule "will not be affected, at least initially, by the partial shutdown of the federal government" that began on December 22, 2018. The court has enough funding to operate for now and said that "[o]ral arguments on the calendar for the month of January and February will go on as scheduled."

But the FCC, which is partially shut down, filed a motion yesterday asking the court to postpone oral arguments in the net neutrality case.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“This isn’t like shipping wine”—Defense Distributed v. Grewal has its day in court

January 16, 2019 - 6:26pm

Enlarge / Defense Distributed was looking forward to this day enough that it produced a movie-like trailer. (Srsly) (credit: Defense Distributed)

AUSTIN, Texas—“I see nuances that require more thought,” US District Judge Robert Pitman told the assembled attorneys and small crowd of onlookers (new Defense Distributed Director Paloma Heindorff included). “All presentations have been of great use, and these are fascinating and important issues.”

Pitman, clearly, would not be making any rulings in Defense Distributed v. Grewal (PDF), a suit brought last summer by the 3D printed firearms company (and colleagues like the Second Amendment Foundation) against New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. But just as clearly, the judge appeared to recognize the fundamental and futuristic questions at play as the idea of free speech collides with the idea of digitally distributing CAD files for printing a firearm.

This case largely hinges on a newly enacted state law, SB2465, aimed at regulating “ghost guns.” Texas-based Defense Distributed believes it violates the Constitution. The company has failed twice to argue for a temporary restraining order against New Jersey. Now Judge Pitman gathered the two legal teams to consider a preliminary injunction, a wider-reaching legal maneuver that could potentially halt an array of actions.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

T-Mobile CEO, execs stay at Trump hotel while lobbying Trump administration

January 16, 2019 - 6:01pm

Enlarge / Entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. (credit: Trump International Hotel)

T-Mobile's CEO and other executives have repeatedly stayed at President Trump's hotel in Washington, DC while lobbying the Trump administration for approval of T-Mobile's proposed acquisition of Sprint, according to a Washington Post story published today.

The Post's investigation is titled, "T-Mobile announced a merger needing Trump administration approval. The next day, 9 executives had reservations at Trump's hotel."

T-Mobile and Sprint announced their $26 billion merger on April 29 last year and are still seeking approval to merge from the US Department of Justice, Federal Communications Commission, and state regulators. T-Mobile executives have faced skepticism about the deal from federal and state regulators, according to a report by The Capitol Forum. A coalition of consumer advocacy groups has been warning regulators that the deal will harm competition, raise prices for wireless consumers, kill up to 30,000 jobs, and result in worse wireless service.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft removes Forza dances amid Fortnite lawsuits

January 16, 2019 - 5:16pm

Enlarge / Actor Alfonso Ribeiro shows off "The Carlton" during a Dancing with the Stars performance.

Forza Horizon 4 no longer features two dance emotes—the Carlton and the Floss—which were previously available for use by in-game avatars. The removal is listed under the "Other Improvements" section in the notes for the game's Series 5 update, which launched yesterday with a new online adventure playlist and new Mitsubishi cars for the game, among other changes.

Microsoft has not offered a public explanation for the removal, though a spokesperson told Kotaku "Forza Horizon 4 features a large portfolio of content and is continuously updated." The move comes, though, after both dances became the subject of lawsuits regarding their similar inclusion in Epic's Fortnite.

The Carlton—popularized by actor Alfonso Ribeiro on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air—and the Floss—popularized by Russell "Backpack Kid" Horning in a Saturday Night Live performance—are the apparent inspiration for two Fortnite emotes that can be purchased as part of various Battle Pass DLC packages. Lawsuits filed against Epic by those dancers accuse the Fortnite maker of illegally profiting from their copyrighted dance creations.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Video: Inside the artistic mind of Dead Space designer Glen Schofield

January 16, 2019 - 5:10pm

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Paul Isackson. Click here for transcript.

Our recent visit to Dead Space designer Glen Schofield's home to discuss the challenges of developing the horror classic left us with an enormous amount of footage to sort through. Glen was very generous with his time and allowed us more than simply a peek behind the curtain—we got a full tour through the man's artistic mind and processes.

This video is perhaps not as directly game-focused as our previous one, but Glen was brimming with words of wisdom for aspiring game artists—and aspiring artists in general. He tells of his professional beginnings, dutifully toiling away in the Barbie mines at Absolute Entertainment and getting the last laugh when he was promoted over other Barbie-eschewing coworkers. He discusses the artist's eye and how immersing oneself in art alters the way one perceives the world—an engineer might look at a machine and see in their mind the way the parts mesh and the gears turn, while an artist sees the machine and thinks of how to represent it on a canvas in terms of light and shadow. Both disciplines see things that are hidden or non-obvious to everyone else, and both require a blend of talent and training.

My mother is a painter and illustrator, and I hear many of the things she told me growing up echoed in Glen's advice. Artists see the world in a way that other disciplines do not, and the best artists—artists like Schofield—are able to create compelling images that draw the viewer in and allow them to experience some of the artist's own emotions.

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YouTube updates policies to explicitly ban dangerous pranks, challenges

January 16, 2019 - 4:06pm

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Pranks and challenges have always been popular on YouTube, but now the Google-owned company has set stricter guidelines for such content. A new YouTube support page details the company's updated policy surrounding "harmful and dangerous" content to explicitly ban pranks and challenges that cause immediate or lasting physical or emotional harm.

"YouTube is home to many beloved viral challenges and pranks, like Jimmy Kimmel’s Terrible Christmas Presents prank or the water bottle flip challenge," the FAQ post says. "That said, we’ve always had policies to make sure what’s funny doesn’t cross the line into also being harmful or dangerous."

The updated policies page now highlights three specific types of videos that are prohibited:

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

January 16, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years? (credit: NASA)

Anniversaries offer a moment for reflection, so when Ars Technica reached the start of its 20th anniversary recently, I inevitably paused to consider the state of US human spaceflight in 1998.

In 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission, which found water on the Moon. It was also the year when 15 countries came together to agree upon a framework for the International Space Station and later launched the first piece of the laboratory into orbit. And also that year, promisingly, NASA’s new X-38 spacecraft made its first successful test flight. All of these events would, in various ways, help determine the course of US spaceflight development that led us to today.

Looking back, one thing soon became clear: past is prologue, and the rhythm of history repeats itself. The human spaceflight achievements of 20 years ago seemed to foreshadow the current state of play in space, so seeing how the seeds planted then have both bloomed and withered likely offers some helpful perspective on what may happen in the future.

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Eight months after discovery, unkillable LoJax rootkit campaign remains active

January 16, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Lino Mirgeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Last May, researchers published a bombshell report documenting sophisticated malware attributed to the Russian government. The malware, dubbed "LoJax," creates a persistent backdoor that survives operating system reinstalls and hard drive replacements. On Wednesday, researchers published new findings that indicate the campaign remains active.

LoJax in May became the first known case of a real-world attack harnessing the power of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface boot system found in virtually all modern Windows computers. As software that bridges a PC’s firmware and its operating system, UEFI is essentially a lightweight operating system in its own right. That makes it a handy place to hide rootkits because once there a rootkit will remain in place even after an OS is reinstalled or a hard drive is replaced.

LoJack repurposed

LoJax gets its name from LoJack, an anti-theft product from developer Absolute Software. The rootkit is a modified version of a 2008 release of LoJack (then called Computrace). The anti-theft software achieved persistence by burrowing into the UEFI of the computer it was protecting. The design ensured that even if a thief made major changes to a computer’s hardware or software, a LoJack “small agent” would remain intact and be able to contact Absolute Software servers.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Travis Strikes Again review: Switch may already have its weirdest game of 2019

January 16, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Grasshopper Manufacture)

Have you heard of video game developer Goichi Suda, better known to fans as Suda51? If so, you're likely familiar with his brand of weird games, from Western cult classics Killer 7 and No More Heroes to decidedly Japanese visual novels like The Silver Case.

But Suda51 has mostly lingered on the edges of the Western game industry, in part because his biggest games didn't attract huge audiences here. One big reason is that his best fare on the GameCube and Wii targeted older gamers, who were arguably too busy playing PlayStation and Xbox consoles during those eras to notice. And his decidedly Western-minded followups, Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, suffered from development issues and sloppy gameplay.

This week, Suda51 will enjoy a rare moment of front-and-center attention thanks to a cozy spot on the Nintendo Switch's quiet January calendar. Between the usual dump of indies and a six-year-old New Super Mario Bros. U re-release comes the latest game from studio Grasshopper Manufacture: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. "Hey, I've heard of No More Heroes, and that Suda-fifty-something guy," you may think to yourself while flipping through the Switch's "latest games" listings. "I could go for some of that slick, weird Japanese action he's all about."

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The original Ghostbusters franchise is getting a new film in 2020

January 16, 2019 - 4:36am

Enlarge / Who ya gonna call? Three of the four original Ghostbusters: Bill Murray, the late Harold Ramis, and Dan Ackroyd. (credit: Columbia Pictures)

Fire up your proton packs, people, because there's going to be another Ghostbusters movie from Sony Pictures, according to Entertainment Weekly. Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) will direct the new film, which will be set in the same fictional universe as the 1984 original and its sequel—unlike Paul Feige's 2016 all-female Ghostbusters.

Reitman is a fitting choice, seeing as how he's the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the 1980s films. You may have glimpsed Jason, his mother, and his sister in the original Ghostbusters, as residents fleeing their haunted skyscraper. Jason even had a line in the 1989 sequel: he was the birthday boy who told the 'Busters, "My dad says you guys are full of crap."

Reitman resisted following in his father's footsteps for years, but it seems he's finally succumbing to the call. “I’ve always thought of myself as the first Ghostbusters fan, when I was a 6-year-old visiting the set. I wanted to make a movie for all the other fans,” Reitman told EW. “This is the next chapter in the original franchise. It is not a reboot. What happened in the ‘80s happened in the ‘80s, and this is set in the present day.”

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